From the SOY President’s Desk: Appreciating YU's Uniqueness as Home to a Diverse Jewish Community and Our Responsibility as the Nucleus of American Modern Orthodoxy
This year will be different. I feel confident in saying this before I know anything about how any of your classes will unfold, how much you will enjoy your amazing morning programs, or how many new friends you will make. I know very little of what the upcoming year has in store, yet I can assure you it will be different from anything you have experienced before. If this is your first year here, you may not be surprised by this assertion. Some of the upperclassmen, however, may be a little skeptical. Allow me to explain why I am so confident.
What is the biggest difference in the campus between this year and last? We have some new amazing teachers and rebbeim and many new students, but the most impactful newcomers have been the impossible-to-miss banners which now cover many of the walls of Glueck, Furst and the elevators of Belfer. These banners are a triumphant reminder about the history of this amazing institution, and merely receiving a daily reminder of how lucky we are to be a part of it is enough to transform our year into something unrecognizably positive.
When I was a senior in high school, I, like all of you, chose to attend Yeshiva University. I didn’t know much about the day-to-day life in the university and all of its intricacies, but that didn’t matter. All I knew about YU was its reputation, history and legacy. My father attended Yeshiva University, and my mother attended Stern College for Women. I grew up hearing about the history and personalities of YU, including Rabbi Soloveitchik, Dr. Belkin, Rabbi Lamm and many more. I wasn't as concerned with the details of my specific YU experience because I was so excited that I would have the opportunity to be a part of something bigger, to be a link in the chain which is YU. Knowing this was all the convincing I needed that I belonged at YU..
As its banners and history can attest, YU is an amazing place. We are all blessed with the privilege of calling this place our home. Every student has the potential to gain tremendously from all YU has to offer. However, not everyone will have the pleasure of maximizing their time here. The greatest enemy to a prosperous college experience is something with which we are all—unfortunately—probably familiar. It is the cynicism and despondency that creeps into our thoughts, conversations and body language. As long as it exists, the student body of YU will not achieve all it can. As a member and leader of the student government, I have to fight this enemy at every opportunity. I will use this platform to begin my mission by reminding all YU students why their time here will be awesome.
I will first call your attention to the amazing diversity of YU’s morning programs. At the end of last year, The Commentator published an article describing the recent trends of all the morning programs. As Rabbi Kalinsky was quoted in that article, “every morning program is a l’chatchilah (an ideal) in its own right.” Regardless of what a student is looking for in a morning program, YU has an amazing option for him. We can’t take the spectrum of programs for granted, as there is no other Jewish school in the world that has the range of students that YU does. And while such a range is not without its challenges, it presents a unique opportunity to grow alongside each other. Complementing the diverse student body is an unparalleled roster of roshei yeshiva and religious staff who are here to cater to every kind of student that walks into their classrooms. All of this exists in the same institution which trains and prepares us for our professional lives. For those of us who studied in Israel, those institutions mainly had a singular focus on learning Torah. While acquiring skills for studying Torah is crucial, it is equally important to allow the words we learn to permeate the lives we live. YU, with its integrated schedule, teaches us how to juggle different priorities and different values; how to work diligently and manage our time properly. As Rabbi Penner often says, we only get busier after YU. The skills we learn here will help us meet the challenges life has in store.
Lastly, I want to focus on something related to what President Berman spoke about at the opening kennes this year. YU and its students have the capability to make an impact on Jews all across America. In my opinion, we often don’t appreciate the fact that YU is the flagship of Modern Orthodoxy in America and, therefore, the impact it has on America. We don’t realize how communities all across America feel connected to YU and look to its roshei yeshiva, faculty and students as role models. This fact is quite intimidating, and forced me to think how we could actively reach out to the world while still in college. So, to broaden the influence of the YU student body, I created a Torah publication, written by YU students, that will be distributed in YU and in shuls across America. The name of the publication is Yitzchak Yiranen (Yitzchak rejoiced). My hope is that this publication will enable the students here at YU to appreciate the impact they can have on the larger Jewish community just by contributing to and being active in the community of Yeshiva University.
After internalizing the amazing opportunities here in YU, I think that there are several other things we must do in order to maximize our time here. I will reiterate what I said at the kennes: I think that it is critical for every student here to have a religious role model and mentor with whom to consult about life and religious growth. In addition, we must avoid cynicism at all costs. While I must confess that I, too, am guilty of being cynical, I think it is fair for me to suggest that we must not complain just for the sake of complaining. Instead of focusing on the problem, why don’t we focus on thinking creatively about what can be done to remedy the issue? (On that note, if anyone has any suggestions or concerns regarding religious life on campus please feel free to come over to me in person or to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org).
Finally, I will conclude by saying that in regards to growing religiously on campus, we receive a return only if we invest. We must stay in for Shabbos, and we must participate in the various other religious programming YU offers. Hopefully by taking advantage of the religious opportunities for growth in YU, we will really enjoy our religious experience on campus. I am looking forward to an amazing year!
Photo Caption: The Ronald Reagan poster hanging outside the Gottesman Library
Photo Credit: Moshe Spirn